Tackling Mental Health Problems Head On: Is TMS A Viable Treatment?

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Mental health and wellness have come into sharp focus in recent years. In exceptional cases, a paradigm shift in treatment has taken place, moving away from the conventional methodology of medications and therapy, towards non-invasive technology-driven treatments like TMS. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a drug-free treatment regimen which is highly effective at combating depression. 

Already, millions of struggling patients around the world have enjoyed the benefits of TMS, with significant improvements reported over time. In fact, notable percentages of patients undergo complete remission of their depression symptoms and a much higher percentage report significant improvements. With Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, patients who don’t respond well to medication and therapy can benefit immeasurably from the stimulation of specific regions of the brain, which are likely to cause symptoms of depression. TMS was initially developed in 1985, courtesy of award-winning physicist Anthony Barker.

Is TMS Safe and Pain-Free?

Dr Robert A. Lavine PhD penned an article in 2016 for Psychology Today titled, ‘TMS for Depression Adds to Treatment Options.’ The body of work is one of many touting the benefits of TMS as a viable alternative to medication and psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy and SSRIs (Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac) are often the first line of defense in the treatment of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. 

Many people respond to these treatment regimens, but not all of them. When standard treatment options fail patients, nonconventional methods such as TMS are brought into the equation. The mechanics of TMS systems are highly sophisticated, suffice it to say that a coil and a magnetic field are used to target specific areas of the brain by way of magnetic pulses. These pulses focus on ‘depression centers’ in the brain to relieve the patient’s symptoms. 

When the FDA approved TMS, it quickly gained growing acceptance among psychiatrists as a viable alternative to medication and therapy. It is largely restricted to patients with non-responsive Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), notably patients who do not respond well to other treatment regimens. TMS is worlds apart from ECT. Electroconvulsivare stimulapy, and other invasive procedures, can be used for treating depression. 

ECT involves sending live electrical currents by way of electrodes into the brain. Other similar options such as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) make use of small electrical charges which can be used at home. From a pain perspective, TMS is completely pain-free. There may be a degree of lightheadedness, tingling, or mild discomfort, but these pale in comparison to invasive techniques which may be used to treat specific conditions.

TMS is highly effective at treating MDD as well as OCD. Unlike other invasive treatments, there is no surgical element involved. Patients simply sit on a chair, wide awake, while magnetic pulses are used to target depressed areas of the brain. The magnetic coil targets a part of the brain that is near the surface of the skull. 

These pulses of energy impact the electrical rhythm and circuitry of the cells, resulting in subtle, albeit effective changes in neuron functionality. This improves mood and disposition, and ultimately relieves depression after multiple treatments have been undertaken. TMS treatment sessions continue for 30 to 45 minutes, 5 days a week. The entire treatment course can last 4-6 weeks. There is no sedation, no anesthesia, and no surgical procedure whatsoever. It is safe and relatively pain-free.